States are increasingly willing to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, Peggy McGarry of the Vera Institute of Justice told a meeting of judges, state legislators, and corrections officials from nine states to discuss sentencing and prison policies in a time of budget cutbacks. The session, in Annapolis, Md., was organized by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices in conjunction with the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Center for State Courts, and the Pew Center on the States. McGarry mentioned eight states that have reduced or eliminated mandatory minimums since 2001.
Among other reforms cited by McGarry are states, including Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Vermont, that have required parole, probation, and other community corrections agencies to use risks and needs assessments for offenders and individualized case management for treatment and other services. The conference also heard from pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, who is studying public opinion on corrections issues. Research so far shows public support for releasing more low-risk, non-violent prisoners if there are mechanisms to hold them accountable, McInturff said. States with delegations at the meeting, which concludes today, are Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, and Oklahoma.